The aftermath of Arafat’s death

It appears a moderate Palestinian leadership will finally have a chance to lead.

The world never understood Yasser Arafat. Alternately seen as a villain and a hero, the hopes and aspirations of the Palestinian people were pinned to a man who was never willing to trade the sword for the olive branch. Despite numerous opportunities, he failed to take the steps necessary to be a leader for the Palestinians, not just a symbol, and deliver statehood to his people. He leaves behind a legacy of a rejectionism and violence.

Looking back at Arafat’s life, it is evident he was more concerned with destroying the state of Israel than creating a state for his own people. He conducted his first raid into Israel in 1964, in an unsuccessful attempt to blow up a water pump.

The West Bank was then under Jordanian rule and the Gaza Strip was under Egyptian rule. No territory offered for a current Palestinian state was controlled by Israel at this time. He also rejected several plans offered by Israel to create an independent Palestinian state, most notoriously the offer presented by former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak at Camp David in 2000.

Arafat created his terrorist organization, Al Fatah, in 1957. Shortly after Al Fatah’s creation, the Arab League created the Palestine Liberation Organization to help fight against the state of Israel. In a few years, Al Fatah took over the liberation organization’s internal operations.

Over his 40-year “career,” Arafat directed and financed terrorism by Al Fatah, such as the hijacking of three planes in 1970 and blowing them up in Jordan, murdering Israeli schoolchildren, killing 11 Israeli Olympians in the 1972 Munich Games and suicide bombings that took thousands of Israeli and Arab lives.

Even after he supposedly abandoned terror and recognized Israel’s right to exist, Arafat gave a speech at a mosque in Johannesburg, South Africa, in which he called on all Muslims “to fight and to start the Jihad to liberate Jerusalem” and referred to the Oslo accords as a “despicable truce.” Is it any wonder Israel and the United States distrusted this man?

Now, instead of a peaceful nation governed by the rule of law, the Palestine Arafat has left behind is a lawless place where Hamas and Islamic Jihad are free to terrorize not only Israel, but their fellow Palestinians.

Yet there is hope for peace in the post-Arafat era. Israel is unilaterally pulling out of the Gaza Strip and the northern West Bank, expecting nothing in return from the Palestinians. A majority of Israelis supports the removal of settlements as a step toward peace, and in the absence of a negotiating partner, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon crafted his own plan. Now that Arafat is gone, Sharon has said he would be willing to coordinate the pullout with a new Palestinian leadership.

It appears a moderate Palestinian leadership will finally have a chance to take the reigns. Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazin), the former prime minister who resigned because his efforts of reforming the Palestinian Authority were obstructed by Arafat, has been appointed as the the liberation organization’s leader. There are many other Palestinian leaders as well who understand terrorism is not the means by which to achieve a Palestinian state.

With elections approaching, the Palestinians must make a choice. They can either continue on the current course, set by Arafat, which has been a disaster for both Israel and the Palestinians, or they can choose to reject terror and begin building a nation. Both the Palestinians and Israelis deserve to live in peace and freedom. For their sake, let’s hope they will choose the latter.

Brett J. Willner is the Gopher Public Affairs Committee campus liaison and Hillel’s Student Board Israel chairman. Please send comments to [email protected].